I would like to assure everyone reading this that I have kept the spoilers to a minimum for this review of Man of Steel. But if you are new to this property, you might want to be careful all the same.
Allow me to get right down to the point: this movie was very entertaining. It delivered Superman to an entirely new generation of fans and supporters while still holding true to all of the key points of Superman’s origin story. For longtime fans of Superman, the basics are pretty well covered. The planet Krypton does get destroyed, Superman’s parents do put him on a ship as a baby and send him off to Earth in order to save his life. He is raised by the loving Kents from Kansas and does eventually learn of his true heritage. With those pillars in place, the trio of Zack Snyder, David Goyer and Christopher Nolan proceed to tell a fantastic story at a frenetic pace.
If you are expecting the "happy go lucky" feel of the previous Superman films done by Richard Donner and attempted by Bryan Singer, you had better temper those expectations. Snyder and company have set out on a different but mostly welcome path in re-telling us the origin story of one of the most iconic superheroes ever.
Henry Cavill is Superman and this story focuses primarily on Clark Kent coming to terms with who he is. Snyder dedicated a great deal of time in showing us how young Clark Kent struggled to adapt to our world. The casting for this movie was amazing; even some characters who did not get used as much managed to find precious moments to connect to the audience. Did I mention that Henry Cavill is Superman? Because he is, and he'll do a tremendous job in guiding Superman into the 21st century. Much like Doctor Who fans debating their favorite Doctor, Superman fans will be happy to include Cavill's name in their own debate.
The action of the movie definitely fits Snyder’s style and I could easily see it overwhelming certain facets of the audience. However if you wanted to see Superman simply glide through the air, rescue kittens out of a tree, flash a smile while spouting boy scout mottos, foil bank robbers along with insidious real estate schemes, then I recommend popping in your old VHS tapes. This current incarnation of Superman has not had a chance yet to partake in the little everyday deeds of a superhero. Why? Because of a super villain known as General Zod portrayed by the sublime Michael Shannon.
General Zod of 2013 is a man on a mission, pure and simple. Shannon’s take on Zod gives us an exquisite mix of quiet rage that transforms into a volcanic fury, all wrapped around an obsession to duty. He definitely ranks high in the upper echelon of modern day villains, and his lieutenant Faora-Ul (played wonderfully by Antje Traue) is the perfect complement to Zod.
Both sets of Superman’s parents help give this movie a soul. Russell Crowe’s depiction of Jor-El deserves to be placed in the same breath as Marlon Brando’s iconic performance. Kevin Costner delivers such a powerful act given his relatively limited screen time while Diane Lane brings such warmth to the role of Martha Kent that you could understand where Clark acquired his compassionate and moral core.
Snyder and Goyer take a refreshing course when it comes to the relationship between Lois and Clark. The idea that a pair of glasses could be enough to mask his identity from one of the world’s best investigative journalists was plausible only in a bygone era. If the eventual romance between Lois and Clark was ever going to have a chance, it needed a little touch-up. While a certain sect of fans will bemoan the loss of the little cat and mouse game Lois had with Clark’s secret identity, it was finally time to retire that concept. I admit that it seems odd to not have that security blanket but now Snyder and Goyer have an opportunity to show us different layers of the relationship between Lois and Clark. And while I've heard of people complaining that Amy Adams was not used enough, I think she did a marvelous job for what she was given. I would also imagine that this relationship will get a little more attention in the already green lit sequel.
The expanded back story of Krypton was gratifying, and while opinions will vary about the representation of Kryptonian technology, I for one did not have a problem with it. Snyder and Co. have set up a couple of very nice Easter eggs that hint at an expanded DC Universe. Man of Steel is undoubtedly the tent pole to hold up DC's fresh endeavor to replicate the wildly successful approach taken by Marvel Studios.
The movie does have its requisite flaws - one that stood out was the hurried transition from scene to scene throughout the movie. Even with two hours and twenty three minutes, Snyder still needed to rush through some parts in order to tell this over-packed origin story. Hans Zimmer has delivered a terrific score that can stand on its own. The theme created by John Williams will always be the standard, but it is good to know it has some worthwhile company.
Overall I’d give Man of Steel an A- and to give a sense of reference I would grade Superman Returns at a D+. Man of Steel was simply a good time at the movies - exactly what we're looking for in a summer blockbuster.